Stephanie Trierweiler: Complete the ‘positive business’ funnel

Wednesday, March 28, 2018 - 4:36pm

According to the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business employment report, bachelor of business administration graduates accepted full-time positions in 10 major industries in 2017. Close to 40 percent of them entered the financial services industry and an additional 20 percent entered consulting. About 10 percent of masters of business administration students’ internships last year included a social impact component, but impact was not mentioned for BBA internships or full-time positions. Just 1.8 percent of BBAs entered the non-profit, education and government sectors combined.

This report, of course, doesn’t give a complete picture of the kind of work Business students and alumni do in their early careers, but it clues us into the types of opportunities students seek out immediately after graduation and for which they consider themselves candidates. It makes sense finance and consulting would comprise a substantial percentage of BBA graduates’ entry-level positions; jobs in these areas tend to demand business majors, pay high starting salaries, are often prestigious and can act as a launch pad for a variety of careers.

But unlike many other top business schools, Ross School of Business identifies “positive business” at its core. Its website proudly states, “At Ross, we develop leaders who make a positive difference in the world. Become one,” and “Be a force for good. Align your desire to make an impact with our positive business focus.” The school also places its commitment to sustainability, social impact and positive business in line with leadership development as components of its central mission.

Why, then, is impact mentioned nowhere in the Business School’s BBA employment information? Why do few alumni explicitly pursue non-profit work and why aren’t benefit corporations and social enterprises well-represented among BBA students’ more than 190 hiring companies?

It’s not that the positive business focus is an empty campaign. The school offers a ton of events, classes and programs that aim to inform students about using business to make positive change and support them in on campus activities with impact. For example, one of the first core classes in the BBA program, Business Administration 200, includes corporate social responsibility concepts in its curriculum. The Business School houses the Center for Positive Organizations, which operates popular learning programs like Magnify and +LAB and hosts the Positive Links Speaker Series. Its Center for Social Impact hosts an annual multidisciplinary Social Impact Challenge and several student organizations within the Business School — like Net Impact and Community Consulting Club — create socially conscious communities and opportunities for students to work with local non-profits.

I believe one of the main reasons many BBA students engage in positive business activities like the ones above but don’t end up pursuing related job positions in their early careers is because the Business School doesn’t frame these kinds of career tracks as a standard option.

When I went through recruiting for internships my junior year, I remember several classmates had interviewed with a dozen or more banks through the Business School’s on campus recruiting system. But my online search for “non-profit” under recruiting company type pulled up only a single result. I attended an information session for the Center for Social Impact’s internships, which outlined its Impact Corps program and grants opportunities for students who design their own social enterprise, but opportunities and funds were extremely limited for undergraduates.

While MBA students — who typically work for several years between undergraduate and graduate school — have had time to explore their careers and pursue different job opportunities, I believe BBAs feel strictly funneled into the major buckets of finance, consulting, marketing and accounting. And if they are interested in working for companies with socially or environmentally driven missions, they must sacrifice the Business School’s career resources and look for jobs through off campus recruiting.

In an already competitive, high-stakes job search environment, I feel this lack of representation of non-profits, benefit corporations and social enterprises on campus drives away students who would otherwise include impact-driven jobs in their recruiting process.

What makes a business administration degree so compelling — especially in a broad program where students’ required classes cover a number of different functions — is its versatility. Practically every field needs people with management, communication and analysis skills. Though people might not immediately think of business majors when they imagine who pursues non-profit or impact-driven work, these organizations could benefit immensely from employing graduates from top business schools like the Ross School of Business.

Through its positive business campaign, the Business School is taking important steps toward developing classes of business students who have motivation and accountability in their workplaces and communities. But its absence of non-profit and purpose-driven organizations in its on campus recruiting system hinders students from including a valuable path in their set of perceived career options.

Stephanie Trierweiler can be reached at strier@umich.edu.